Brazilian AIDS Patients
Find Jesus' Healing Love

By Mary E. Speidel
Baptist Press

VITORIA, Brazil -- When Regina Celia Texeira Carvalho talks about her family, her choice of words speaks volumes. "They are nauseated by me," she says.

Why? Carvalho has AIDS.

When she had a miscarriage, she says, the man she lived with left her. She started losing weight. Later a blood test showed she had the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) -- the virus that causes AIDS.

After she told her family, "they didn't feel the same about me anymore," Carvalho says. "Friends were even worse."

But she found a place where people care. It's called "House of Hope," a Baptist AIDS hospice in Vitoria, Brazil, where people with AIDS can stay after they're released from the hospital but are too sick to go home. Out-of-town patients use the house, too, while getting treatment at local clinics. Some, like Carvalho, live at the house because they've nowhere else to go.

Through House of Hope, Southern Baptists help share Christ's love with Brazilian AIDS patients. About $134,000 in Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board human needs funds have helped finance the house and its ministries. The Southern Baptist Woman's Missionary Union adopted House of Hope as its 1996 national ministry project and gave almost $109,000.

These gifts -- along with those from Brazilian Baptists and local residents -- help Foreign Mission Board missionaries Karen and Tony Gray of Wagarville, Ala., and Moss Point, Miss., respectively, keep the house running. They opened it in June 1995, two years after Karen Gray began visiting AIDS patients in Vitoria hospitals.

God gave her the idea for the house one night when she couldn't sleep for worrying about the patients' needs. A former teacher, she has no training in pastoral care, social work or health care. But you'd never guess that.

In Carvalho's room at House of Hope, Gray takes the Brazilian's thin hand in both of hers, speaking softly to her in Portuguese. During the last three years, she's done that with several hundred AIDS patients.

"Touching patients is one of the most important things we do," Gray says, explaining "Brazilians live and talk very close to each other. They're constantly touching."

When someone in Brazil gets diagnosed as HIV-positive, human touch is usually what he or she loses first. That was true for Elizabeth, one of the first AIDS patients to stay at the house. She was considering suicide before she met Gray and her Brazilian co-worker Penha Alcantara, a full-time volunteer for the house. They were the first non-medical people to touch Elizabeth since she told family and friends she was HIV-positive.

Elizabeth accepted Christ in the hospital before she died. So did 95 other AIDS patients helped by House of Hope workers. Gray keeps a notebook with information on each patient she knows and red marks beside the names of ones who've died. So far, there are more than 200.

For Gray and her colleagues, those odds are hard to handle.

Brazilian Baptist state convention missionary Francisca Zenailde do Nascimento, the house's vice director, found her work tough at first. "Every case seemed to be worse than the others. Every time I'd talk to a patient, I'd want to go cry," says Nascimento, who prays with each patient morning and night. "All of them said, 'There is no hope, no solution to my problem.'"

Nascimento and her colleagues give the only answer they know. "I tell them that there's hope in Christ," she says, "that there's something beyond this. There's someone who wants to comfort and care for them."

One patient she told nightly was Railene, who had become a prostitute after running away from home to escape her abusive father. Railene had a child by a man who gave her the HIV virus. Railene often asked: "Why should I have this 'Jesus' in my heart, now that I have this sickness?"

But one day Railene and her mother -- who was visiting that day -- prayed to accept Christ.

"The way patients are received at the house is something very important for their lives," adds Paulo Pecahna, a Brazilian Baptist infectious disease specialist. He began treating the state's first AIDS patients 10 years ago and helped fellow Baptists open House of Hope.

"When (AIDS patients) first visit the house, some say, 'We feel like we're in heaven,'" the doctor says.

Thanks to Baptists and House of Hope, some of them really are.

AIDS Ministry Takes Missionary Out of Comfort Zone

Meet Karen Gray, a Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board missionary from Wagarville, Ala., who helped start House of Hope, the Baptist AIDS hospice in Vitoria, Brazil.

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